I once considered myself to be a vegetarian. When I moved to Germany two and a half years ago, I indulged in meat occasionally, maybe at a restaurant or special dinner, but very rarely. A combination of the meat culture that is omnipresent in Germany as well as the general feeling that the Fleisch sold in the EU is held to higher quality standards than it is in the US, has led me to eat much more meat than I ever have in my life.
This all became exceedingly apparent on a recent stopover in Munich. The state of Bayern is considered the capital region of Wurst, or sausage, in Germany. The stereotype of big groups of Lederhosen-wearing men glugging down steins of Weissbier and swallowing whole incomprehensible amounts of Würstl, is actually true. True and contagious. Seemingly from the moment we set foot in the old town of the city, we had sausage on the brain. Upon recommendation from a friend born and raised in Munich, we ended up at Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl, a classic old beer cellar that makes Rostbratwürste. Since it is located right beside the dome in the old town, it has its fair share of tourists, though we learned from the retired Munich police commissioner sitting beside us that it actually does, in his opinion, serve some of the best beer in the city. We scarfed down every last Würstl on our plates.
This wurst kind of syndrome continued into the following week when Paul returned home with three large packages of sausages, dying to fry them up. Now, it took me nearly two years of living in Berlin before I even tried its fabled Currywurst, and Paul claimed he hadn’t eaten a sausage in over 15 years prior to the Munich binge. Nevertheless, we fried some 30 Würste with a bit of soy sauce and Cholula hot sauce, giving them a distinctly non-German, spicy edge. (Highly recommended if you like some heat in your meat.) We also used mustard, and caution that ketchup should never be considered.
As enjoyable as these kinds of rich delicacies are, in the end I just don’t think I like eating in this way. At least not often. The problem is that in Germany, these kinds of meat- and fat-based foods are difficult to get away from. True, one can find very good quality products (I have a wild-meat butcher within a three minute walk of my house!), but try getting a whole vegetable or fruit here on a Sunday, for example, which is exactly what our dire quest was upon returning from the Munich road trip. Walking around town after 11pm or on a Sunday, one encounters a plethora of beer, wine, chips, döner kebabs, or falafel sandwiches, but there is not a whole food in sight.
Many Germans would argue that you can’t make people work in grocery stores late at night or on a Sunday or holiday, because they want to have lives too, a family, time for themselves. But what about the countless late-night shops– beer and cigarettes abound– or the 24-hour kebab stands? Are the people who work there not deserving of rest and relaxation? Or is it just that we need cigarettes and fats much more than we need apples and broccoli? Certainly owners of late-night shops also need to make a living; providing such high-margin items as alcohol around the clock ensures a thriving business–or at least a surviving one. But these shop owners also pay for the right to remain open late into the night or on Sundays. Or they hide it, as I have seen in the case of some semi-closed ‘underground’ grocers on a holiday. The holiday Monday after we returned from our road trip, desperate for some real food to bring home and cook, we set out by bike and found one Turkish-owned grocer that instructed us to ‘walk around back in half hour’ in order to go inside to go shopping. We happily waited, imagining the rows of fresh vegetables that normally would grace the shelves. Creeping in through the back service entry, flies swarmed around crates of rotting peaches, wilted peppers and moldy onions. In the end, half-defeated, we settled on a bag of frozen peas and some cans of beans, which is actually a much better option than you would ever find at your average late-night shop.
I don’t know what the answer is. Subsidize shops that want to open on Sundays and that carry actual food? Never return from a trip on a Sunday night before a Monday holiday? My personal solution is perhaps more of a multi-faceted resolution: do not succumb to the convenience and temptation of what’s out there and being shoved at me. Go shopping on Saturday– early. Buy a juicer. Remind myself that Currywurst just does not feel good to eat. Keep frozen vegetables and cans of beans in the house. Knock on the neighbor’s door on Sunday afternoon…